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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Caught in the ACT

<ression “gap year” is an almost completely unfamiliar term to many U.S. high school students. So familiar to students across Europe, it is not used in North America because no tradition exists among U.S. graduates to take a year off between high school and college for work or service learning opportunities. Rather, in the United States. there are very well respected and well established organizations for service after college. The Career Center has extensive information on many of the organizations of this type popular with Carleton grads. The Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and Teach for America are some of the bigger names that may come to mind.

The norm is shifting though, and more students are coming to Carleton with experience abroad. Tony Wheeler, publisher of the Lonely Planet guidebook series commented on this change: “Even in America, a blank year or two on your CV, once looked upon as a sure sign of unreliability and lack of application, is now starting to be seen as adventurousness and a wider understanding of the outside world.”

Increasingly, U.S. colleges are picking up on this trend, Carleton included, by becoming more understanding, even encouraging, of students wanting to defer college entrance for a year. The Dean of Admissions at Harvard University, William Fitzsimmons, wrote an article to incoming college students, which was revised in 2006, entitled “Time Out or Burn Out for the Next Generation.” The article advocated the requirement of all incoming first-years to take time off after high school. Fitzsimmons wrote, “Students use their opportunities in college much more effectively if they have had some chance to get perspective.”

British nonprofit organizations like Raleigh International and Frontier are being imitated by stateside organizations like Leap Now in California that provided “Leap Year” opportunities for students ages 16-19, or Global Quest, which has both summer and year-long programs.

Too late for a Gap Year? There are still many students who take “mini-gap years” during their time at Carleton that give them the same sense of inspiration and perspective. Abby Baum ’08, an American Studies major, received $5000 through the Career Center Initiative for Service Internships that she used to work for a nonprofit in La Paz, Bolivia, called Eye to Eye Volunteering. Her experience with creative education in Bolivia made her “understand the value of education and learning” and has inspired her coursework since. Abby is now volunteering at Anishinabe Academy, an Ojibwa and Dakota magnet school in the cities and proposing her comps on Native American education in an urban setting.

While the emphasis here has been on the perspective gained from taking time out of a formal education, it is worth noting that extraordinary achievements have been made by Carleton students across the board. The task is simply not to emulate—but to achieve balance and satisfaction in the specific direction that you take your higher education.

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